Unlike the 1990s YBAs, however, almost all the artists who defined the 60s scene, were men: Boty, Bridget Riley, Tess Jaray and Jann Howarth being the honourable exceptions. What Boty does have in common, though, with the likes of Tracy Emin or Sarah Lucas is that her work is intensely, unflinchingly autobiographical and deals openly with female sexuality and female desire, despite the prevailing (and still fundamentally sexist) atmosphere of the time. Boty claims back this ground through appropriating imagery from pin-up magazines and, in the case of It’s a Man’s World II (1961, Private Collection), pornography. At the same time that Andy Warhol was fixing a film camera on his ‘Superstars’ and encouraging them to bare all, Pauline Boty was already stripping herself naked and looking with the eyes that looked at her.
Untitled (Landscape with Rainbow) belongs to a rare group of bright, hypnotic abstracts that, with more than a nod to her early heroine Sonia Delaunay, take Clement Greenberg’s maxims on abstraction (at the time highly influential currency in the art schools of Britain) and give them a Pop twist, rather like fellow-RCA graduate Richard Smith’s works of the same period, which subsume commercial packaging and advertising imagery into painterly colour-fields. And it was these works that were to feature in Ken Russell’s film Pop Goes the Easel, which launched the likes of Boty, David Hockney and Derek Boshier into the consciousness of the wider public.
Untitled has a dream-like quality to it, the three fragment forms seemingly part of a graspable, material world that at the same time remains elusive, whilst the two large, flat areas of white and ochre create a sense of space that is part-Ellsworth Kelly, part-Mark Rothko.
It’s no surprise that Boty’s graduation thesis – written at the same time that Untitled was painted – was about the representation of dreams: this is a painting about drift, the in- and out-spaces of the new world in which Boty and her contemporaries lived, similarly bright and optimistic, yet shadowed by nuclear war and social upheaval. In her two most famous works, Colour Her Gone (1962, Wolverhampton Art Gallery) and The Only Blonde in the World (1963, Tate) Boty slices open these dream-like abstracts to expose another layer beneath, filled by images of Marilyn Monroe culled from celebrity magazines. The floating spaces of works such as Untitled (Landscape with Rainbow) shear apart to reveal the ‘real’ world beyond, but this too is merely ‘such stuff that dreams are made on’.
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